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Japan to Build Frozen Wall to Stop Radioactive Water Leaks at Fukushima

September 3, 2013 at 12:00 AM EDT
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JUDY WOODRUFF: There’s more bad news from Japan about radioactive leaks at the crippled Fukushima nuclear plant and a new plan to deal with those problems.

We begin with a report from Tom Clarke of Independent Television News.

TOM CLARKE: It’s two-and-a-half years since the reactors here were sent into meltdown, and the cleanup has hardly begun. Instead, engineers have been battling daily to prevent hundreds of tons of radioactive water leaking from storage tanks from the site.

As confidence in the plant’s operator, TEPCO, has dwindled, today, Japan’s prime minister announced the government would intervene.

PRIME MINISTER SHINZO ABE, Japan (through interpreter): The whole world is watching whether we can successfully resolve problems at the plant and decommission the reactors. We must all work together on the issues.

TOM CLARKE: The current crisis at the plant stems from the huge quantities of water needed to cool the four stricken reactors. Nearly 400,000 tons of water is being stored in these hastily constructed tanks. More are being added daily, and they’re running out of space.

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Since the initial meltdown in 2011, contaminated cooling water has been leaking from the reactor buildings into the groundwater beneath, and a fortnight ago, TEPCO admitted radioactive water had leaked from storage tanks too.

Today’s plan is to drill hundreds of boreholes around the reactors and pump them full of supercool seawater to freeze the ground, forming an ice barrier that will stop contaminated water leaking out.

TREVOR JONES, nuclear technology consultant: The difficulty comes in actually being age able to get close enough or to get into the locations that they would require to install the wells. So it may be that they have to make the ice wall further away from the radioactive source than they would have ideally wanted.

TOM CLARKE: The rest will be spent on the thousands of tons of contaminated water in leaky tanks. It’s being suggested today’s action is to improve Japan’s image abroad on the eve of the decision to choose the 2020 Olympic host nation.